Protracted proceedings a problem for Law Society of Ontario advertising regulation: Experts

LSO should take advertising violations more seriously: lawyer

Protracted proceedings a problem for Law Society of Ontario advertising regulation: Experts
Adam Wagman and Trevor Farrow

Transparency and honesty are critical in legal advertising, and the Law Society of Ontario must ensure that lawyers adhere to the rules of professional conduct when advertising their services, says Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP senior partner and personal injury lawyer, Adam Wagman.

Wagman says lawyers should be able to promote their services but should do so in a way that is accurate and under the rules set by the law society.

Referencing the Law Society of Ontario v. Barapp case, where personal injury lawyer Arkadii Barapp admitted to professional misconduct by using improper advertising, Wagman says the law society has not taken advertising violations particularly seriously.

The LSO ordered Barapp to pay $42,000 after he rectified the misleading elements identified in his advertising.

Wagman says LSO disciplinary cases should also move faster because it serves no interest when drawn out and can be unfair for the parties involved.

“It’s not fair to the legal profession, it’s not fair to the individual lawyers, who are being accused of wrongdoing and have these things dragged out for years and most of all, it’s not fair to the public, who the law society is supposed to be protecting.”

Trevor Farrow, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School who specializes in professional and judicial ethics, says lawyers should focus not only on maintaining the workings of the business of law but also on the overall structure and integrity of the legal profession because it is fundamental to democracy and the rule of law.

Farrow says that the general view of legal advertising has changed dramatically and is much more accepted in today’s economy because legal services are now considered part of a business.

“The prevailing view was that lawyers should not be advertising and that it was somewhat distasteful to be advertising a business designed to give services in the context of people’s problems.”

Despite this positive shift, he says lawyers and especially those in the public space, must take the impact of their jobs seriously.

He says legal advertising connects to the justice system, and a core part of a functioning justice system is the public’s trust in the courts and lawyers, so when lawyers overstate or mislead, it reduces the public’s confidence in lawyers whom many see as the gatekeepers of the justice system.

“It takes a long time to build trust and integrity, not just for individual lawyers, but for the profession generally, and unfortunately, it doesn’t take that long to erode it.

“That’s why advertising matters in law, maybe more than it does in other parts of society.”

Farrow says personal injury lawyer Jeremy Diamond’s case potentially highlights the importance of honesty and integrity in legal advertising and how seriously the law society considers breaches to the rules and principles around professional misconduct.

As reported by the Toronto Star, Diamond retracted his admission of professional misconduct to the LSO over his firm’s advertising.

Farrow says the process of the Diamond case creates a procedural and interesting challenge for the law society. It’s procedurally complicated, it’s not typical, and it just doesn’t look good,” he says.

“I think at the end of the day, the law society wants to get it right, and to look at the totality of facts and figure out what’s the right result here.”

Jeremy Diamond’s lawyer Brian Greenspan told Law Times the matter is still ongoing, and it is unclear what the case’s outcome will be. The matter is now up in the air, he says. “We do not know what the final result will be.”

He says his client’s last hearing was about admissions and further submissions on a joint resolution that the committee allowed to decide if they agreed or disagreed with the joint recommendation for a reprimand. 

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